Russian Futurologists Missing the Most Important Point, Shelin Says

File Photo of Kremlin Aerial View, adapted from .gov source

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, July 22, 2017)

Russian futurology, currently experiencing an unprecedented boom, is focusing on the question of who might succeed Vladimir Putin rather than on the more important question of what kind of a country Putin or someone else will have to rule, according to Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin.

Shelin says that most Russian futurology falls into one of two camps, one that calls for no real and rapid change lest things fall apart or the ruble collapse and a second that is ready for that on the principle that “a horrible end is better than horrors without end.” But both focus on the leaders rather than on the country to be led (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2017/07/21/1632644.html).

At present, most are talking about Aleksey Navalny, who is performing an important service by being the first in the 21st century to openly seek power. That is a serious “political contribution before the country. But from the struggle to victory is a long way,” Shelin pointedly suggests.

The main problem, he says, is this: “If Russia in fact had matured to the level of democracy, self-government, openness to the world, and free and humane capitalism, then who would stop it? Any imaginable leader would not spit against the wind and try to head a movement” that would block what was occurring in the population.

But the problem is precisely there, in the population, Shelin continues. Putin came to power with support from the population for his plans to “rebuild the central powers.” And thus what he has done, even if not in all details, “corresponds to a broad social desire. Russia was prepared precisely for this course, although it didn’t guess how far he would go.”

Now, almost 20 years later, Russia has gone back into time of feudal confusion and chaos, in a way that recalls but does not simply duplicate what was the case before Putin arrived. The power vertical is weaker now than it was and “the power of Vladimir Putin only looks absolute.” It isn’t.

This is not just about Chechnya, Shelin says. It is about a situation in which no one is confident that what he has will not be taken away from him by those with more power. And given that, he argues, even if democracy magically appeared, the population would overwhelmingly vote for “a dictatorship of the feudal lords.”

There is no real private property or any autonomous legal system. And “the leading strata are so similar and affected by an anti-social spirit that there are no reasons to expect anything but cosmetic changes from above.” Those on top believe that they could lose everything if they weaken further and so they won’t, at least on their own.

Only real and continuing pressure from below can change that, and what one sees, Shelin points out, is that the pressure from below is not only weak but that its demands are “quite narrow,” such as fighting corruption, precisely the kind that authoritarian rulers can successfully address to remain in power.

Russians “aren’t demanding an end to wars, they are little interested in the gigantic militarist spending and … in general consider elections and electoral structures fictional.” Consequently, they are still seeking “a strong and just hand” rather than self-administration and self-development.”

If Russia’s futurologists would focus not on what would be a good order but on what Russia “in fact is ready for,” that would be obvious, the commentator says. “One has to recognize that Russia again is in a feudal dead end – and the exit from it hardly will be rapid, short, and democratic.”

For two decades of Putin, Shelin concludes, Russians have shown that they are prepared to put up with and even support a firm hand. The only real hope is that “it doesn’t follow that they will remain silent for another 20 years.”

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/07/russian-futurologists-missing-most.html]